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San Francisco: Nevada dumps homeless, mentally ill on streets

First Published      Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:34 pm

San Francisco • David Theisen keeps his legal papers in a frayed yellow envelope in his tiny transients' hotel room, a toilet down the hall, the covers of his beloved comic books, with titles like "Dark Mysteries" and "Vault of Horror," lining the drab walls.

A lot has changed in the year and a half since Theisen, 52 and homeless, threatened to kill himself with a butcher knife and ended up in a Las Vegas psychiatric center. After one night, Theisen found himself on a bus to San Francisco, several sack lunches and a day's worth of medication clutched in his lap.

"Technically, they shouldn't have been allowed to send me anywhere," Theisen said. "They should have put me in a little room until I got better."

Now, Theisen is at the center of a class-action lawsuit brought this month by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera against the state of Nevada on behalf of 24 mentally ill and homeless people. They were all, like Theisen, bused out of Nevada and left on the streets of San Francisco with little or no medication.

But that is just a small sampling, Herrera says, of the estimated 1,500 people who were bused all over the country in recent years from the state-operated Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Center in Las Vegas and other Nevada institutions, 500 of them to California.

"It's horrifying," Herrera said. "I think we can all agree that our most vulnerable and at-risk people don't deserve this sort of treatment: no meds, no medical care, a destination where they have no contacts and know no one."

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who has several weeks to respond to Herrera's lawsuit, has declined to comment in the meantime.

Mary Woods, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, laid out the state's position in an email. Outside a handful of instances, the state believes that its Client Transportation Back to Home Communities program was operated properly and that it is similar from programs in other jurisdictions, including San Francisco.

Nevada officials say that besides a single, well-documented case, they believe that the Rawson-Neal staff followed proper release procedures in almost all of the remaining cases they have investigated.